Leaders must work with DeSantis to solve civics education crisis

August 22, 2022

This piece was originally published by the Orlando Sentinel. Click here to read the original article.

As the 2022-2023 school year begins, Florida’s politicians, educators, and school administrators must consider working more closely with partner organizations to support Gov. Ron DeSantis’s push to address the state’s civics education crisis.

Whether you agree or not with the governor on other issues, civic education is one on which all Floridians should be able to come together. Florida high school and college history educators frequently teach basic elementary and middle school-level foundational history and civics in their classrooms. That is because their students, from those in Advanced Placement classes to those who take remedial courses, usually have at best soundbite understandings of their rights and duties as Americans. They don’t understand what makes their country exceptional, and their criticisms of their nation are often rooted in misunderstandings and politicization that a basic history and civics education should quickly reverse.

Building off the work of the State Board of Education and state Legislature, the DeSantis administration began promoting new in-state civics and history standards last year, including new civics literary exams and guidelines that encourage fact-based, comprehensive education. These new measures should promote civics and history that’s accurate and not pushing ideological agendas.

Education is not supposed to be about indoctrination. It is supposed to be about discovering truth. To paraphrase the old Aristotle dictum, people desire to know, but they don’t want to be told. They want to discover the truth by themselves.

However, even with these new statewide civics education standards in place, teachers can still inadvertently hug too closely to the “be told” approach to educating. Students may still meet competency standards when they must merely memorize and regurgitate facts, but then they are being informed, not educated. This provides them with an incomplete picture of America and fuels disinterest and detachment from the material while increasing political division and distrust of America’s institutions.

Add it all up, and it is clear that Florida’s schools do not just need civics and history standards; they also need to increase the training and mentorship resources available to educators so that they can teach the state’s new requirements in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Florida’s Civics Literary Excellence Initiative, which recently began providing funds to enhance teachers’ professional learning and growth, is providing growth and development opportunities for Florida’s social studies educators. The program is allowing more teachers to work with and become exposed to organizations such as the Ashbrook Center, an independent center in Ohio that, as I know from personal experience, inspires and trains teachers to explore history with their students through reading, discussing, and analyzing the nation’s core primary source documents. Ashbrook believes third-party sources like textbooks often stifle critical thought and inform students rather than educate them.

The state has supported and sponsored development opportunities for English, math, and special education teaching for years. It is long past time for it to begin prioritizing these opportunities for civics and history education. Doing so represents the best way to address Florida’s civics education crisis and transform Florida’s students into the leaders America needs.

Greg Balan, a former Masters Program scholar at the Ashbrook Center, teaches at a Fort Myers high school where he was the Daughters of the American Revolution history teacher of the year for Florida in 2021.